More Answered Prayers… Ms. Martha's Job
July 04, 2014
This happened a few years back, during what was, at least for California, the depths of the economic crisis. I've been meaning to post it ever since, but just haven't.
Ms. Martha's job.
I think it was May or June of 2010. Ms. Martha—who never fails to come to church, was one of our children's ministry leaders for years, is a faithful tither, and never complains about the pastor no matter how horrible a job I do,— stood up at the end of the Sunday service to ask for prayer.
" They said they're laying people off at work…"
Ms. Martha works for the county education department and because of the economic downturn the State of California had started furloughing people, i.e. reducing their work hours by 10% and thus reducing their pay by 10%. (It always surprised me that so many of my right wing pastor friends were so gleeful about these cuts to government spending. They seemed incapable of making the connection between cutting a persons salary 10% and that person's tithes being reduced by close to 100%?) Besides the furloughs, entire programs and departments were being cut.
How we've learned to pray.
If Martha had stopped there we could have prayed a nice spiritual sounding prayer, expecting that as with most prayer nothing much would happen, but wishing for the best, taken up the offerring, and all gone home. But that's not how we've learned to pray.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:19 NIV)
The original word translated in English as "ask for" is the Greek word "aiteo." Now "aiteo" can mean ask, but it can also be translated "demand." (You can read more about this here.) I think the English word that best convey's what Jesus is saying here is "decree." You can tell Jesus isn't talking about asking God for something because he doesn't say it will be given them, he says, it will be done for them. So, I'd say that verse should read like this:
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for decree, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:19 NIV)
Jesus says basically the same thing here, again I've substituted "decree" for "ask:"
13 And I will do whatever you ask decree in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13 NIV)
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for decree in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24 NIV)
You can see how the "whatever you decree" of vs. 24 fits better in the context of vs 23's "what they say," than "ask."
Ms. Martha's prayer.
Anyway… so Ms. Martha doesn't stand up and ask for prayer in that traditional and traditionally ineffective way. Instead, she does exactly as we've learned, she decrees.
" They said they're laying people off at work and I want you to agree with me that, that job is mine as long as I want it to be."
'Yikes,' I'm thinking, while trying to maintain, 'now what am I going to do? This is serious business." I search my heart to see if my heart can agree. Down way deep inside I get a barely recognizable ok. But my mind is screaming pretty loud, 'You're going to look like an idiot if this doesn't work." Finally, I sucked it up and decided, well if I end up looking like an idiot, I'm going to end up looking like an idiot trying my best to believe God. So, as is our custom, I ask everyone to agree with Martha:
"Everybody… lets say this, 'That job is Ms. Martha's job as long as she wants it to be."
If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything they shall decree, it will be done for them of my father which is in heaven. Whoooo hoooooo!
After the service I asked Becky about Ms. Martha's job. Becky's a school teacher so she's somewhat familiar with the goings on at the county education department. Becky's pretty sure they're completely cutting Ms. Martha's department!
And then what happened?
It's our practice, at the end of the service, after everyone's faith has been built up by the teaching of God's word, to agree together about those things we've prayed about in the previous weeks, months, years, depending.
So the following Sunday, before the service, I'm thinking about Ms. Martha's prayer request. I'm kind of scared to bring it up again. I'm sort of hoping everyone will have forgotten what we prayed. I decide to put any decision off 'till the end of the service. Unless Martha's job comes up in my heart I won't mention it.
Well at the end of the service I was pretty full of faith, so when Ms. Martha's job came to mind I again asked that we all decree together,
"That job is Ms Martha's job as long as she wants it to be."
We went on like this for a few weeks. Then, one Sunday as I'm asking everyone to agree together about Ms. Martha's job, Ms. Martha starts to say something then stops herself. 'Oh,oh!' I'm thinking. 'She must have been laid off.'
So now Martha's apparently been laid off, from a program that has probably been completely eliminated by the state, and every Sunday, all of us at Church are decreeing,
'That job is Ms. Martha's job as long as she wants it to be."
Well… one thing we've learned is that when you pray things don't necessarily change instantly, or even quickly, or even slowly but showing steady progress. Often it looks like things have gotten worse. But experience has taught us that if you'll continue, if you can hold fast to the faith you started out with, God's promise will, in the end, prove to be reliable.
July… August… September… October… we're doing our best to fight the good fight of faith. At the end of every service I ask everyone to agree and say:
"That job is Ms. Martha's job as long as she wants it to be."
As far as we can tell nothing has changed.
Then sometime in October Ms. Martha stands up at the end of the service and tells us they've asked her to come back to work, to get her same job back. Whooo… hooooo… Praise God! I wanted to say like Jesus,
Ms. Martha your faith has saved you, go in shalom!
God is a good God!
Ms. Martha is still working there and that job is Ms. Martha's job as long as she wants it to be!